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Marchers decry custody deaths

About 200 marchers chanting "No justice, no peace," made their way through downtown Saturday to protest police brutality and the deaths of two black men who died last month in police custody.

In an hourlong rally on the steps of the police building, the marchers heard speeches from U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, state and local NAACP leaders, and ministers decrying the deaths and pushing for the creation of a citizens review board to look into look into police violence.

"We will get justice; the walls of police brutality are coming down," said Shanika Carter, daughter of Sammie Lee Evans, 49, who died from a broken neck as police attempted to arrest him on Dec. 3 for drinking outside his home.

Kaleb Underwood, a white officer who pushed Evans to the ground while trying to handcuff him, resigned from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office after internal affairs investigators found he used excessive force in another unrelated incident.

The other custody death involved Ezra Jones, 29, who died while immobilized in restraints at the Duval County Jail. Jones, who was homeless, was arrested Dec. 5, for blocking a public sidewalk.

"This police department is out of control," said Adora Obi Nweze, state NAACP president. "These are not killings by law enforcement officers, these are murders."

On Saturday, Sheriff John Rutherford said in a statement that the county medical examiner's office found Jones died of a heart attack from cocaine use and the stress of the restraint chair.

"There's no evidence of excessive force or violence by the sheriff's office employees," Rutherford said.

After receiving a request by Rutherford, both the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office are investigating the deaths to determine whether their civil rights were violated when they were taken into custody. The Sheriff's Office serves as the police department for the Jacksonville area.

Rutherford has said he will not tolerate excessive force by police. A Sheriff's Office spokesman did not immediately return a phone message Saturday.

"We think life is more important than an open container," said Isaiah Rumlin, president of the Jacksonville chapter of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Rumlin said he suspected hundreds of fans would be drinking outside the Gator Bowl football game between West Virginia and Florida State, and said they likely would not be subject to arrest.

Brown, D-Jacksonville, promised to push for a full investigation by the Justice Department.

"We have no confidence in the police department," Brown said.

In just more than a month, on Feb. 6, Jacksonville will host Super Bowl XXXIX and Nweze said earlier this week that black businesses should get a share of the profits from the game.

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